A Short Survey Of The Acts

A Short Survey
Of The Acts

J. M. Davies

For the Bible student J. M. Davies gives a most instructive survey of the book of early Church history, the Book of the Acts. It should be read carefully with the Bible in hand.

The book we know as The Acts of the Apostles is a very important historical document. It is a highly selective record of the preaching and progress of the gospel, the opposition it surmounted, and the persecution it suffered during the first 25 or 30 years of the Christian era, just as in the book of Joshua we have the annals of a similar period in Israel’s history. If all the acts of all the apostles had been chronicled we would have a library of at least 13 volumes. In the main it is concerned with the witness of Peter and Paul, and a comparison shows a very marked similarity. By this set purpose the idea that either one had a supremacy or superiority over the other is cancelled. The ministry of both was accredited by similar credentials, that is, the necessary signs, miracle and wonders (2 Cor. 12:12).

A Brief Outline

The first seven chapters tell of the witness to the circumcision, the witness to the nation as indicated in the parable of the wedding supper of Matthew 22:1-7. During those few years the disciples continued to meet in the temple precincts, in Solomon’s porch. And of their message we read that “they ceased not to teach and to preach Jesus as the Christ.” The burden of their ministry was to establish the claims of Jesus to be the Messiah the nation had long been waiting for. Following the stoning of Stephen, and not before then, Philip, and later Peter and John, went to Samaria. In the words of the parable referred to they went to the “highways and byways.” The three conversions recorded in chapters 8-10 are a clear indication that the gospel was to go out universally. All racial boundaries are set aside as is evident by the fact that the three recorded conversions are representative of the three families of Noah. Following the order of the commission (1:8), the witness in chapters 8-12 records the spread of the work in Judea and Samaria. Then in chapters 13-28 it expands to the uttermost parts of the earth. In the early chapters we have the record of the “furtherance of the gospel,” then the “confirmation of the gospel,” and lastly, the “defence of the gospel.”

Key Chapters

Certain chapters in the Book are of special significance, such as chapter 2 with its account of the day of Pentecost which marks the commencement of Church history. In chapter 7 there is almost a tape-recording of Stephen’s heart-moving appeal and death. Then in chapter 10 we have the account of Peter’s visit to the house of Cornelius which established the truth that Gentiles were to be accepted as Christians without having to undergo the rite of circumcision. This is crucially important. In chapter 20 we have Paul’s final word to the Ephesians elders in which a true picture of Church life in apostolic days is given, with its plurality of elders who were bishops and shepherds responsible for the care of the flock of God. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the detailed account of the shipwreck in chapters 27 and 28 were not intended to illustrate the tragic course Church history would take as the result of failure to listen to Paul, or of turning away from Paul (2 Tim. 1:15).

Significant Days

In chapters 1-7 Luke seems to have selected from a carefully written diary the events of seven separate and important days. There is a clearly discernable pattern followed in these chapters, and this may be readily observed by comparing the following references:

    1. Ascension day (1:4-11; see 1:12-26 — general summary covering ten days).

    2. The day of Pentecost (2:1-41; see 2:42-47 — a summary covering an unspecified period of time).

    3. The notable miracle and the first imprisonment (3:1-4:22; see 4:23-37 — a summary covering an unspecified period of time).

    4. Ananias and Sapphira (5:1-11; see 5:12-16 — a summary of a short period).

    5. The apostles imprisoned and beaten (5:17-40; see 5:4-42 — a brief summary of the following days).

    6. The choice of the seven (6:1-6; see 6:7-11 — a summary of another period).

    7. Stephen’s message and martyrdom (6:12-7;60; see 8:1-4 — a brief general summary of the great persecution which followed).

The general summaries are very brief, but they are small windows through which we get wonderful views of those historic days.

Dr. Luke

The careful historian to whom under God we owe a great debt for this important account is Luke, Paul’s companion in travel and fellow-laborer. In Colossians, Paul calls him the “beloved physician” (4:14). The pronoun “we” appears for the first time in Acts 16:10 when Paul left Troas for Macedonia. It next appears in 20:6. During the interim period Luke seems to have stayed in Philippi where he was used of the Lord to establish the assembly. His ministry accounts for its spiritual growth. It has been suggested that he was a Gentile. If so, he holds the high honour of being the only Gentile to have contributed to the sacred canon. He also wrote the Gospel account which bears his name, the same having a definite Pauline accent, even as Mark has a Petrine accent. It would seem that Luke became a disciple of the Lord during our Lord’s ministry, for he says: “It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first” (Luke 1:3). Or, the words may mean that he had gathered his material from those he speaks of as “eyewitnesses” (Luke 1:2). The sources of his information were reliable and trustworthy. To him, as a physician, was committed the privilege and responsibility of detailing the events connected with the birth of John and our Lord. With great delicacy he had ascertained the facts from both Elizabeth and Mary. This does not in any way impinge on the truth of inspiration, but it serves to illustrate how the Divine and the human elements are combined in the written Word even as in the Living Word. Scholars competent to judge bear testimony to his accurate and versatile knowledge of the facts and of the language in which he wrote.

Theophilus

In the opening words of The Acts he refers to his former treatise which he had addressed to a person whom he honored with the title “most excellent.” As these words were used when Felix and Festus were addressed, Theophilus was in all probability a Gentile convert and a Roman official. Apart from this his name is itself significant. It means “lover of God” or “God-beloved” (A. T. Robertson). It is, therefore, a representative name. He represents all true Christians, those who are beloved of God and are lovers of God. Both Paul and John refer to this in such a way as to indicate that it is the acid test of true Christian experience (1 Cor. 8:3; 1 John 5:2). The name is one of many such compound names in the New Testament. In contrast to those Who are “lovers of God” we read of those who are “lovers of pleasure.” While priority must be given to Theophilus, the name Philologos must be considered a close second. He is one of those whom Paul salutes in Romans 16:15. Was this a name given to him at his birth, or was it a name that was given him among the Christians because of what characterized him as being a “lover of the Word”? To have had such a name passed on to succeeding generations is a great honor, one which should be coveted by all who profess to believe the Scriptures to be the inspired Word of God. We should all be lovers of the Word. It may be that the word “logos” indicates that he was a lover of the Lord whom John designates as “the Word.”

Philadelphos is another such compound word and it must be a hallmark of all true believers. That we love the brethren is one of the sure signs given by the Apostle John that we have passed from death unto life. We should all be Philadelphians. In his Letter to Titus Paul asserts that an elder must be a “philagathos,” that is, “a lover of good men” (1:8). He should also be a “philoxenos,” “a lover of hospitality.” He should not be a “philaguros,” “a lover of money, nor should he be a “philoneikos,” “a lover of debate, a contentious man.” Lastly, an overseer should never be a “philoproteos,” that is, “a lover of preeminence.” That is what characterized Diotrephes!

The Book of Acts was written to Theophilus and all whom he represents. They should surely have more than a casual interest in the spread of the gospel, and in the account of its progress since apostolic days, down to our own day and generation. Just as the river which Ezekiel saw in his vision increased in width and depth in a most phenominal way, so in Acts we have the record of the growth and advancement of the work of the gospel in the face of colossal obstacles. Everything lives whithersoever that river flows.